A-Lone Cone

A little update on my training progress for Mount Kilimanjaro – largely because I am pretty impressed with myself (if that’s ok to say), and you have just got to see the view I was blessed with seeing this weekend!

This past weekend was the annual Fat Man Surfing Challenge in Tofino, British Columbia. No, this  is not an official event in B.C. or anything. Rather it is organized by our group of friends for our friends as a way to test the stealth, grace and gumption of a bunch of rugby players (“the fat men”) by suiting them up in wetsuits, marching them out into the waves of Long Beach, Tofino to see who can stand up on a surf board.

Yes you read that right, this is about who can just stand up, period. If you can actually surf, carve a wave, cutback, or layback good for you – but you get no extra points. Standing up is all you need to do to be a challenger. Sounds easy? Not at all – ask Joe’s tooth, and Lance’s head how easy it is! Barneys! [Shout out to the girls who surfed and how they kicked some standing up challenge butt.]

Any who, a tough decision but with all the amazing hikes in and around Tofino, and with Kilimanjaro looming just a month away – I decided to skip the surfing challenge and the fun of peeling on and off a wetsuit and instead get my hike on while the others got their surf on!  I picked the challenging Lone Cone for my Saturday hike.

The Lone Cone hike is located on Meares Island just a 15minute water taxi from the Tofino harbour. Yes I will admit… as a prairie girl from good ole Alberta, the idea of taking a water taxi on the ocean to get to a hike where the vegetation is basically rain forest was too good to pass up and part of the reason I picked the trail in the first place.

Lone Cone, Meares Island, Jamie's Whaling Station, water taxi, tofino

Water Taxi to Meares Island with Lone Cone Mountain straight ahead.

Dropped off at 9:30am on the dock of Meares Island, I arrange a pick up time of 3:30pm with Dennis, the water taxi captain, who dazzled me with all kinds of trivia on the way over. During our conversation we found out his family is from Vegreville, Vermillion and Mundare, Alberta where my Mom’s said of the family hails from. A fellow Ukrainian – what a small world! When I asked him if it would be possible to make the hike up and down before the pick-up time, he looked me up and down and said “you will have no problem; you have good strong Ukrainian legs.”  I took that as a compliment! Right?

Now on Meares Island, I made my way to the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground on the island, about 1km inland, and paid my park fee of $10 to the local First Nations community for upkeep of the trail and dock. The trail was in awesome shape!

Lone Cone trail is described as “it’s all uphill”, “things get really steep”, “feels though it goes straight up the mountain” and “watch your step and not lose control on the slippery, loose dirt” oh and this one “relentless on the knees”. As soon as I started on the trail, I could confirm all of these and some additional expletives are true.

Lone Cone, Meares Island, up, trail, Tofino

The easy parts of the upward slog of Lone Cone Mountain.

This hike is a slog to say the least. I debated multiple times my sanity and my willingness to continue with the stupid-dumb-hike on a stupid-dumb-mountain on a stupid-dumb-island – all of this of course said out loud in grumpy voice  with a couple of “Yuuups” in there to keep me safe from black bears, cougars, wolves and pumas! Because bears and cougars aren’t scary enough, lets toss some wolves in there shall we?!  Oh and if that was not enough to set my nerves on fire, the tape that was used to mark the trail was pink (pretty right?) with DANGER on it (not so pretty!).

danger, lone cone, trail marker, up

Danger tape as a trail markers?!

However, in addition to the super hard work and scary animal eating me paranoia it was also really fun. There were lots of logs to walk across over streams and fallen trees to go under or attempt to crawl up and over. The trail rangers were even nice enough to put in permanent rope in about 4 sections where the incline was super steep and there was no foot or hand holds on the loose dirt or where the bridge over the creek had fallen down. I felt a little like I was in a video game jumping over and across things or something. Yuuuup!

trail, Lone Cone, fallen tree, Meares Island, Tofino

The trail, under that fun mess of logs!

According to my FitBit, after just 6.72km, 2hrs and 58mins and 1,106 calories burnt I made it to the top – I conquered Lone Cone Mountain!

The fear of wolves eating me, of bears chasing me, of plummeting to my death down the dirt slop of a mountain alone, or being found swelled up like a balloon from a bee sting– was over! I was at the top and I was darn proud of myself. Yuuuup! The view was beyond amazing and I had to literally sit, breathe, maybe even tear up a little (not too dramatically, in a really pretty sort of Hollywood way) to take it all in.

Lone Cone, Clayoquot Sound, Tofino, top, Osprey, Asolo

Lone Cone view over Clayoquot Sound, Tofino British Columbia

lone cone, me, top, up, view, Clayoquot Sound, Tofino

So proud of myself, I couldn’t resist a top of Lone Cone Mountain selfie!

Wow, I did it. Wow!

Now where is the Gondola?! I wish!

What goes up, must come down – I always hated physics in school!

If I thought the way up was tough, I knew I was in for a “good” time on the way down. Additional expletives were added to the litany from the way up, some Yuuuups, and some yelps from the knee crunching and ankle jarring. Wow was it amazing though to truly realize how far up I had actually come! I pulled out one of my hiking poles and between the pole and trees on the way down I was making good time swinging myself down. I was mostly upright with just a few Gollum moments when the terrain was too steep for my fear of heights (refer to Lord of The Rings and how Gollum scrambles of rocks on all fours – not overly attractive but effective all the same) .

Wow was I getting tired. You know that tired where you get a little clumsy and don’t lift your feet quite as high as you think you are – I met a few roots in the toe and in the shin. I met the ground suddenly when I slipped and fell but still managed to pop up and pretend to be all cool in case some wolf was watching me. I didn’t need the Big Bad seeing I had a weakness; I am the lion not the gazelle in this story Mr. Wolf!

After 5.75km down in 2hrs and 38 minutes and another 305 calories burnt, I was back at the dock. I called my Ukrainian water taxi captain Dennis to come for me a bit earlier than our predetermined time and ate me a snack from my pack (mmm dried figs) watching the jelly fish floating about below my dangling feet while I waited.

Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, ocean, Asolo, Lone Cone, Meares Island

My tired feet dangling off the side of the dock as I waited for my water taxi back to Tofino.

I was a little worried about how my wobbling legs would get into the boat but, let’s be honest, gracefulness has never been my strong suit even without a crazy hard hike behind me – so why worry about it today.  The captain guy said to me as I got on the boat “did you see any wildlife; wolves or bears?” I replied “Nope, a couple squirrels and these jellies is all” and he says “Hmm, well they saw you”.  Yikes! Not ok!

Back in Tofino, I headed to Long Beach to heckle the fat man surfers, take off my boots and enjoy the warm sun and sand, a cold beer, and the company of great friends! {and maybe brag a little about how awesome the hike was}


PS: 32 Sleeps to departure for Mount Kilimanjaro

Voyage Epique pour L’Afrique

Or for those of us whose ability to speak French is only in our minds…

The Epic Journey to Africa!!!

As the countdown to Kilimanjaro continues at an alarming rate, my days seem to be disappearing more and more quickly while being filled with less and less time to myself for much needed prep. It is just 39 sleeps til go time and I find that my to-do list has not changed in 2 weeks. There have not been any items scratched off the list nor added, my training is at a standstill, and nothing has been incorporated or removed from the dormant pile in my Kilimanjaro corner – with the exception of a black furry H2O bladder that was inadvertently left for 10 days at 30 degrees, full and stagnant in my Osprey pack, after a mosquito-swarmed hill hike near the river with 2 fellow Kili trekkers. Ninety-seven percent of the surface area of my feet believe they are enveloped in a heavenly cloud of billowy comfort, while my heels are still lifting in my beloved Asolos, creating hotspots and blisters no matter what type of concoction I devise. My shift pattern at work has been changeable – working 18 shifts in the last 14 days – and I feel as though my free time is reserved only for sleep. This must, of course be a misconception, as my Fit-Bit Surge assures me that my average daily sleep duration is 5 hours and 23 minutes with only 7 periods of wakefulness during that time…

I am unsure if this is happening to anyone else in our group with Kili breathing down their necks or if it is just me (the time crunch, not the hairy hydraulics system – I do not wish that clean-up on anybody!). The posts on our “Climbing Kilimanjaro” and “Africa or Bust” Facebook pages contain photos of mountain hikes accomplished in 4.5 hours and confirmed safari bookings, the final invoice and pre-departure manual for Kili, and research updates and itineraries. Meanwhile, I feel slightly disenfranchised, more than a little inadequate, and I must also admit to entertaining horrifying thoughts of everyone in our group bounding up the mountain, fit and prepared, while I lay defeated and short of breath in a fetal position with a resting heart rate of 151, being mocked by Colobus monkeys throwing bananas at my head before I even reach Simba (Sekimba) Camp – 2635m.

Of late, these fleeting moments of self-doubt have had the sneaking ability to transform themselves into a full-fledged storm of negative self-talk. Trust me when I say that if one is not careful this storm can easily spiral into a goal-less, black hole of a pyjama-day filled with endless carbs and NETFLIX. On a positive note pyjama days are good, as are healthy carbs and Netflix. It only has the potential for disaster when it is all rolled into one with underlying elements of apathy and indifference. The past couple of weeks I’ve been tired out and burned out and it seemed I had temporarily lost that desire to learn more, see more, to experience and do more. Thankfully, it has been short lived and I am again able to recognize how mightily I am blessed to have the opportunity to embark on such an incredible journey.

I find that when I change my focus from me to what surrounds me, that I am able to see a very small part of some of the things that are wonderful and amazing in this life. When I shift my thoughts from how tired I feel from working to how thankful I am to have two jobs, I am able to see that there are people struggling each day because they are unable to work; When my thoughts move from how much I have to do to how much I am able to do because of my family and friends, I am empowered to do even more – not just for myself but for others; And when I start to look outward at circumstances that often can not be changed, at what surrounds me and overwhelms me, I stop, am still, and look within. I do this because when it seems that everything around you is conspiring to keep you from your goals, desires, and dreams, it is then that you will see not only the strength that comes from inside you, but what strength surrounds you in friends, family, and even strangers who have never had the opportunity, or perhaps the courage, to follow their own dreams.

Hiking Goatfell, Scotland 2014

During the time I have written this wee post, my circumstances have not changed in the least!! The shiftwork prevails, the blisters are peeling, my to-do list remains, and the time for training has not increased… but the dream lives on!!! My family is behind me every step of the way, I’m not yet out of ideas for blister prevention and lacing techniques, and I am one hundred percent confident that my trekking team won’t leave me with the monkeys. This trip has already turned out to be more than a vacation, a hike, or a trip with friends… In the short time of preparation it has proven to be an incredible learning experience, a time of getting to know myself, and a fascinating pilgrimage to the center of my being which has not been explored in a long while. The beginning of this adventure has been amazing and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us on our beautiful Voyage Epique pour L’Afrique!

Care Bears and Kitty Cats

I have been hiking all over the lower mainland of British Columbia for the last few months as part of my training for Mount Kilimanjaro and really just because I love to hike and live in the coolest place ever for easy to get to, really amazing hikes!

However, throughout these past few months of hiking I have noticed a few things that scare me about this wonderful, amazing world of British Columbia trails…

caution bear!

Bear Sightings In the Area! Mount Thom Trail, Chilliwack


I really like teddy bears and think they are cute and great and wonderful. I have this little one from my nephew that when you press his paw there is a recording of my nephew saying “Love you Auntie B” and then he makes a kiss sound. So cute. Or my favourites Benjamin the teddy bear who loves ice cream or the amazing Tenderheart Care Bear from when I was a kid. Oh so cute!

Any who, I am NOT taking about teddy bears here…

I am talking about the real, beastly bears that stalk the forests looking for blonde Scottish Ukrainian women to munch on. Oh yes, you read that right. Studies say that bears like haggis perogies and especially those like me who cannot run faster than a toddler with a sippy cup in hand.

This whole idea that bears can run in bursts at speeds up to 55km per hour, they have an acute sense of smell and hearing, good eyesight, they are strong swimmers, can climb trees,  and that all bears are dangerous –  is more than a bit nerve racking! Hello of course they are dangerous. They are mighty warrior omnivore beasts. And the last time I checked, all the other meat in a forest could run or swim or climb much faster than me!

Every time I enter the forest, I feel like one of the plates at a sushi restaurant that just goes around on that moving plate carousel thing in front of the diners – just waiting to be picked off by the bear that has a hankering for my particular fleshy taste that day!

cougar in area

Caution Cougar in Area! Veledrome Trail, Burnaby


I like to imagine that all cats are the same. So cute and cuddly, they all make that great little purr sound when you scratch their neck just behind and below the ears, and all like to roll onto their backs and look at you upside down with that wonderful little I-love-you-and-would-never-eat-you look. Yes of course many are well a little snobbish and could care less if you exist, but through their kitten snobbishness I feel their love all the same.

Well now, this is obviously not true for cougars…

Hmm any “kitty cat” known for saying hello with a crushing bite from behind between the spine and base of the skull, is up to 2.5 meters in length, weighs 90 kilograms, eats only meat, and is more likely to attack a child under age 16 – is not a nice pet!

The fact that every pamphlet I have read says something like “we do not understand what triggers a cougar attack” is not ok with me. What do you mean we don’t know? We can fly into space but we cannot figure out a cougar? People! Can we get NASA focused on cougars please!?

It goes without say that me on the moving sushi plate buffet applies to cougars as diners as well. Seems I prefer to be the only cougar on the trail ha ha ha

Keep Calm and Hike On 

I do most of my hiking alone, so have to find ways to get out there without over thinking the fear of cougars and bears (not to mention random creeps that may be trolling the trails). I have a couple of “tricks up my sleeve” for making the trail my happy place. So far they have worked perfectly so don’t be busting my bubble here!

  1. I spend a lot of time selecting the trails I hike. Usually this means trolling the Vancouver trails and BC Parks websites looking for great, long hikes that take me deep in the beautiful wilderness BUT where there are NO comments from hikers that mention bears or cougars or creeps.  Bugs, mud, no views, poor parking, overgrown trails – none of those comments scare me. But you mention one claw mark or potential sighting of something that has fur on it and that trail is dead to me.
  2. I pretend to fix my shoes and/or pack at the start of a trail until a couple or maybe a few hikers have started up the trail and then I quickly join the trail as well and work my butt off to keep them in at least hearing distance. This way I am not really hiking alone. So if Mr. Bear found me, hopefully these random hikers would hear my screams and come to the rescue. I know I am putting a lot of faith in the human race but I trust hikers. They don’t litter and people who don’t litter must be nice people, right! They are probably also really nice to dogs and old people and recycle. I like that. Good people.
  3. If alone on the trail, I yell out loudly at fairly regular intervals (+/- 50 steps) the word “Yuup”. When I say yell, I do really mean a good, loud holler. I may actually sound a little like that guy from Storage Wars now that I think of it – hmm that’s a bit disconcerting and unattractive. Any way…I understand that part of the reason altercations between woman and beast happen is because the furry hell creature has been startled by what seems an out of nowhere appearance of a human.  With me yelling “Yuup” as I hike there is no chance of startling anyone. This includes bears, cougars and other hikers who hear me and walk past wondering if I have sampled the mushrooms from the forest floor or something.  Even if not alone, the “Yuup” theory is encouraged (much to the entertainment and eventual participation of Lana, Lance and Matty on the Lions Bay Loop in July).
  4. Finally, as I hike I keep a sharp eye out for natural weapons on the trail. I am not even joking. I will pass a rock and make a mental note that it would be good to pick up if a bear attacks me or see a pointy stick and think hmm that will be good to grab if a cougar jumps out right now.  Don’t worry my sharp eye is not about depressing stuff. I also look for items that look like hearts. We are a family that loves hearts. For the hearts, I stop and take pictures for Pinterest and Instagram (of course!). For the weapons, I just make note of as part of my exit / fight back strategy should I need to invoke my inner cave women!

Hiking … doesn’t this make it sound wonderful!


PS: 46 Sleeps to Departure for Africa

A “High” Dose of Reality

altitude sickness

Altitude sickness UP ahead …

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a real and scary thing on Mount Kilimanjaro and other high altitude destinations.

AMS is basically the impact on the body when you cannot get enough oxygen at higher altitudes. AKA the air is “thinner” which really means it is less pressurized so while the amount of oxygen in the air is the same, the rate at which you take it in is much lower. Basically, I won’t be the only one who sounds like Darth Vader up there when trying to get a good breath. Finally!

The symptoms of altitude sickness can be mild: headache, no appetite, sick to your tummy, vomiting, feeling weak and tired, not sleeping well, and dizzy. With a list like that its easy to see why people say it feels like having a hangover. Imagine climbing a mountain feeling like you enjoyed too much red wine last night! Yick!

AMS can progress quickly into something very dangerous. Climbers can go from a simple mild headache to a confused state, inability to walk straight, blue lips or fingers, and very taxed, audible paper bag sounds when breathing. Scary terms like High-Altitude Cerebral Edema or HACE (fluid swells the brain) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema HAPE (fluid fills up the lungs) are something climbers and guides need to be aware of and know how to identify and mitigate.

If the symptoms are mild you ideally remain at your current altitude and allow you body to adjust before proceeding higher OR if your symptoms are moderate you get your boots and butt down down the mountain double-time OR if your symptoms are severe you will be getting a lot of help getting off that mountain.

The question is: will your body adjust? Will you be able to continue? Or, is your climb to the roof of Africa over and you can just lay your weary, pounding head down on a comfy rock pillow and wait for you altitude-immune friends to summit and come down for you? Or worse yet, are you even aware you are suffering and can’t understand what that whip-whip-whip sound of the medic helicopter is? Scary stuff potentially.

Here is the rub … no one can predict who will get AMS. They have not found that one piece in our DNA that predisposes you to AMS. It has nothing to do with being male or female. It has nothing to do with being fit enough or a couch potato.  There are some rumours that it may be genetic but I haven’t seen too much that officially confirms that. Basically, let’s be honest, you don’t know if the altitude will get to you and by how much or how long … until you get UP there!

There are some suggested precautions we can take though, and we are:

  • sleeping at a higher altitude than you normally do a day or two before you start ascending on a day-to-day basis (we are staying 2 nights in Arushu, Tanzania 1,400m before the climb which is higher than our usual 723m in Edmonton, AB or sad little 81m in Vancouver, BC)
  • climb high and sleep low whenever possible on the hike (we get to do this on Day 4 of 7 just before the Summit night)
  • take Ibuprofen every 6 hours to reduce the symptoms of headache (I know I will be taking Advil by an alarm every 6 hours)
  • take high altitude medication (example: Diamox)
  • avoid alcohol, eat plenty of carbohydrates, drink loads of water

In addition, we are travelling up that mountain with a very reputable hiking company, Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. They are experienced and they are trained! While the food and shelter and toilet (yes you read that right) they provide is awesome and will make our hike super enjoyable; it is the regular monitoring of our physical condition and quick reaction to any signs of AMS that will make our climb safe.

In addition to the above precautions, this climbing crew also has a little extra in our safety blanket! We have a paramedic, firefighter, nurse and a pharmacist in our group of adventurers! Not only are they all great company; they are wicked-smart!

Summit or not, we are all coming down that mountain on our own two boots alive and smiling (OK a slight grimace or two from blackened toe nails and screaming knee joints allowed). Hello! We have a safari to enjoy the next day!

Important note: any of the medical mumbo jumbo noted above is in “Brande speak”. This means it is how my brain has translated a bunch of medical info on the internet or guidebooks and reproduced it here for you in a way that I understand it. You may have guessed I am NOT one of the medical professionals climbing! 🙂 


PS only 52 Sleeps To Go

Slogging it Up!

Top of the BCMC

Lance (husband), Brande (me) and Matt (stunt double) from left to right at the top of the BCMC

Another great day on the trail training for Mount Kilimanjaro!

Well you may not be surprised that I couldn’t resist my new favourite trail the BCMC on the North Shore of Vancouver this weekend – the weather was too nice to resist and with only 54 sleeps to Africa, getting some upward hiking boot time was the right and great thing to do.

And upward it is! By the count on my Fitbit we are talking 3.84km or 9,000 steps up and by quarter way into it you are aware of each of those steps!

BCMC Trail

BCMC Trail – Lance and Matty slogging it up!

I did it in 2hrs 14mins that’s faster than last time a couple of weeks ago yahoo! The boys clearly were not practicing the Mount Kilimanjaro mantra ‘pole, pole’ (slowly, slowly) like I was. Lance beat me by 40mins and Matt by 20mins. I don’t have the wheels to beat those boys but I do like what a little competition did for my time!

A post climb top of the mountain selfie, gondola down and a pint on a patio by the marina after – a perfect Saturday in my books!


PS only 54 sleeps